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Art & Museums

Art Review: 'PhAb Now' at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries

| Wednesday, July 1, 2015, 9:12 p.m.
Eleanor Aldrich and Barbara Weissberger's 'Pink Planter and Rubber Chair,' 2015
Pittsburgh Filmmakers
Eleanor Aldrich and Barbara Weissberger's 'Pink Planter and Rubber Chair,' 2015
“Inside Out Printer Improvised Explosive Device Diptych 1,” by Jesse Kauppila, 2015
Pittsburgh Filmmakers
“Inside Out Printer Improvised Explosive Device Diptych 1,” by Jesse Kauppila, 2015
“Diamond Portal” by Corey Escoto
Pittsburgh Filmmakers
“Diamond Portal” by Corey Escoto
“Untitled” by April Friges
Pittsburgh Filmmakers
“Untitled” by April Friges
“<.> (ashamed)” by Lori Hepner, 2014
Pittsburgh Filmmakers
“<.> (ashamed)” by Lori Hepner, 2014

At Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland, “PhAb Now!” is a curious compilation of works by seven artists who have been pushing traditional and digital photographic mediums to the outer limits of abstraction.

At the basic level, for example, the half dozen works by Corey Escoto of Shadyside were created by manually manipulating Polaroid film, which the artist sees as a precious fading resource.

Escoto has been making multi-exposure Polaroids for the past two to three years, and while they are, in part, influenced by the process of painting, they are photographs that reflect what is possible at a time when instant film (Polaroid) technologies are disappearing and digital processes are the norm.

“When I first started experimenting with photography, it was a reaction to not having many physical photographs from my life after my childhood, so I bought a bunch of Polaroid (pictures),” Escoto says. “After a number of experiments, I started to think about the Polaroid as a potential palette of color and texture, a process where the palette and the canvas were one and the same. My job was to then figure out how to shape that into something interesting, and that's how I came up with my in-camera stencil cutting and multi-exposure process.”

That process led to the half-dozen geometric photographs on display here that resemble cut gems, which, although tiny compared to all else on display in this show, are bound to grab one's attention right away.

Like Escoto, Todd Keyser of Elizabeth shows several photographs based on geometric abstraction but incorporates real-world “found” imagery.

“What I am looking for is to somehow make the geometry that is inherent in the world around us that is, at many times, invisible, a reality,” he says. “My interest in geometry comes from its visual impact. I am attracted to the way it can transform any place with surprising results and, while it's common and available in all aspects of our lives, most people don't have the time to take notice. Artists make this a priority in their lives.”

Also working geometrically, April Friges of Bloomfield shows small, colorful works that stand in stark contrast to the large black-and-white, one-of-a-kind “abstract darkroom sculptures” she showed in this same space in November.

“Basically, my abstract work in the past four years began in color,” says Friges, who sees this new work as a return to that seminal period. “This new work, which is also one-of-a-kind darkroom color prints, continues to question what our definition of photography is — how do we define the medium today with digital technology when some people don't even print a photograph anymore; it lives online as 1s and 0s,” she says.

Small and classically framed, these works hint at the process of photographic creation in its most elemental form.

Several years ago, Jesse Kauppila of Friendship saw a sign in an airport saying “No Printer Cartridges” and had an idea. “These cartridges could apparently be turned into bombs,” he thought, so he set about making photographs by exploding cartridges from a printer in his office.

“I was interested in how this banal material could be transformed into the sublime or terrifying,” Kauppila says. And one look at “Inside Out Printer Improvised Explosive Device Diptych 1,” which is a massive cliche verre silver-gelatin print that takes up much of one wall, you will likely agree.

In stark contrast, Lori Hepner of Brighton Heights shows several smaller photographs based on emoticons, the result, she says, of “thinking about digital culture and how we use it in our everyday life that is different than the pre-digital era.”

Her work comes from a series called “Contingent Architecture: Digital Feelings in Real Space.” Wanting to “communicate feelings through digital space,” much the same way we do through quick texts or Facebook messages, Hepner “drew” emoticons in real spaces through long-exposure photography, by running around in front of the camera with an LED light stick that visualizes the emoticon one column of pixels at a time.

Finally, the collaborative efforts of Eleanor Aldrich and Barbara Weissberger offer an analog element among so many digital or digitally inspired creations.

“Pink Planter and Rubber Chair” comes out of their collaboration that is based on a shared preoccupation with the tensions between the actual and illusion, flatness and space.

A work that spans two and three dimensions, it explores when a mark or material describes itself — or remains itself, if it is a found object. “The mark, image or material becomes onomatopoetic, or mimetic, collapsing the space between the signified and the signifier,” Aldrich says.

To put it in simple terms, their work plays with the format of the two-dimensional image as it relates to, or, better yet, as an extension of, objects in space.

Aldrich, who lives in Knoxville, Tenn., and Weissberger, who divides her time between Pittsburgh and New York, used Skype conversations, email and “snail mail” correspondence to make this piece.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kshaw@tribweb.com.

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